The beauty of the Qur’an-specific language, meanings, and style surpasses man’s faculty to reproduce the Qur’an in a translated form. A rough approximation of the language, meanings, and style of the Qur’an is possible to enable non-Arabic speakers to understand the message. Qur’an translators have admitted the unique linguistic nature of Qur’anic discourse and the severe limits of its translatability; none of them has claimed that his translation is the standard or the equivalent of the Qur’an (Raof, 2001). Therefore, the choice of the words in the Qur’an has impacted greatly in our approach to determining the purpose behind those words. We couldn’t literally translate all the words in it. We may lose the equivalency in the meaning or even style.
One of the very powerful words found in the Qur’an is الرحمنالرحيم (Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim). Both of them is the name of ﷲ and have synonymous meaning. It is really hard to describe the distinction between those two because they came from the same origin. In a rough English translation, several scholars agreed upon the word ‘kindness’, ‘beneficent’, and ‘merciful’ to be used as a translation. But in the end, you just approximate the literal meaning without the consent of its message. It’s difficult to translate its message behind it to describe the distinction between those two.
Years ago I asked one scholar about the explanation of these two words. But I can’t remember exactly what he said. He just said that it must be related to the worldly desire and after-life vision. The word الرحمن was manifested to all human being as a symbol of how merciful ﷲ to us. While, الرحيم symbolize His mercy, love and care to guide us up until the after-life. At that time, I didn’t realize how deep it is.
In Arabic words when you said something and put an “aan” at the end of that word, its quality become extreme. But it is not for permanent. When you are in extremely thirsty you put those pattern “aan” at the end of the word and it will shift its quality to extreme condition. But you are not thirsty forever, right? It is only temporary. The end pattern “aan” is also taking place at the very moment. Immediately.
Extreme, temporary, and immediate. These are the three words to describe الرحمن. It is describing that at the very moment ﷲ is extremely merciful. Imagine the spike when you extrapolate statistical data, or one extreme point on a sinusoidal curve. It is how الرحمن looks like.
Meanwhile, الرحيم has two qualities. First, it is constant. To describe what is “constant” in this context, imagine a man who has the quality of the patient. He may become impatient at one moment, but most people still seeing him patient. His characteristic remains the same. Constant.
The second quality of الرحيم is not necessary taking place, “it is not acted out”. It is potential. Someone described as a wise man, but when he is sleeping, he does not demonstrate his wisdom. It is dormant quality. It is not necessary demonstrated.
The question then, why الرحمن first? Well, human being loves immediacy. For example, imagine you are an employee in one company and you will get your paycheck on Friday. You need that money immediately, but your boss is being late. Your colleague says, “Don’t worry,our boss is reliable. He will be here shortly. ”You may not satisfy with that quality because you need the money immediately and your boss is being late. You need it right now. You don’t need your boss reliability, you don’t need his “dormant” quality. Period.
When a human being has a problem, they don’t think the quality and potential within themselves. They want the quality to be manifested right away to drive away their problem.
Another example. You just finished your works and phone your wife to prepare dinner. When you arrived at home you couldn’t find the food you ordered. You are extremely hungry. Your wife then asked something else aside from dinner, and obviously, you can’t think clearly about what she just said. “I don’t care. I just want to have a dinner…!” you said.
A human being, when they have immediate needs, they can’t think clearly about anything else. They want their needs to be fulfilled.
Al-Zamakhshari brilliantly describing these two words as two kinds of oceans. Imagine you are looking at the ocean. One part you see the violent ocean endlessly crashing on and on. It is taking its extreme form. This is الرحمن.
In the other part, you see the calm, undisturbed ocean. You just can’t resist on how the ocean made you carried away because it is too calm and peaceful. This is a description of الرحيم.
You will appreciate the genius of one companion, Ibn Abbas, who said about الرحمن and الرحيم. He said الرحمن is for this world, and الرحيم is for the next world. Look at how he said it. الرحمن is temporary just like this world, it doesn’t last forever, and الرحيم is always been there because the next life is permanent. What a splendid saying!
How can ﷲ be described as الرحمن and الرحيم at the same time? This is the beauty of it. It is because every time you asking ﷲ, even you were committed sin before, the potential is always there, He always is there in a state of the ‘Most Merciful’ and manifests it right away. If it is not manifest at the very moment, it will be manifested in the next life. If you have the same problem over and over again, you just keep doing the same mistake, He is still in a state of the “Most Merciful”. الرحمن الرحيم.
This is why these two words are incredible.
You put your trust in ﷲ as He ought to be trusted, as He is always there constantly for you and manifested His extreme love, care, and mercy to uphold people who have faith in Him. That is الرحمن الرحيم.
Simply, you can’t generalize and translate the words directly. You can’t translate the beauty and the majestic behind it. At this point, when you look the explanation thoroughly, you should realize that His mercy is greater than your sin.
As one poet once said,
“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” (Rumi)
Let us embrace the mercy of الرحمن الرحيم…
Raof, H. A. (2001). Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture, and Exegesis. Leeds, W Yorkshire: Curzon Press.